Could a lady MacGyver duct tape the way to more female engineers?

Cristen Conger

UPDATE: The 12 finalists for the The Next MacGYver contest are in, and they look terrific.

What if Angus MacGyver were Anges MacGyver?

From 1985 to 1992, firearms-eschewing secret agent Angus MacGyver -- yes, his first name was Angus -- taught television audiences that the Swiss Army knife is mightier than the sword. MacGyver's ability to get him and his mullet out of life-threatening situations each week by relying on scientific knowledge (and a lot of duct tape) also made him an inadvertent STEM role model. In an interview with the University of Southern California Viterbi School of Engineering, show creator Lee David Zlotoff said, "I literally could not tell you how many times people have come up to me and said, "I became an engineer, or I went into the sciences because of MacGyver.""

Now, Zlotoff is teaming up with the National Academy of Engineering and the Viterbi School of Engineering in a crowdsourcing competition to bring MacGyver back to primetime...sort of. The contest is seeking a MacGyver-like TV show pitch with one big requirement: a female lead. Specifically, Zlotoff outlines in the competition's promotional video, "a female hero that embodies the kind of engineering skill sets that MacGyver had to inspire young people and particularly young women to go into engineering and the sciences."

Zlotoff isn't looking to merely reboot the series with a MacGirlver. He's in the market for an entirely new show, and there's no guarantee that it would even make it to air. Still, it's a compelling idea with a real-world precedent.

Forensic science is a standout STEM field that attracts a lot of women, not only in college classrooms but also in the field. Despite the grizzly work involved, it doesn't suffer the same leaky pipeline issues as, say, engineering.

Not only do roughly four times more men than women pursuing engineering degrees, many women who make it through beeline away from engineering after turning the tassel. For instance, a 2008 study from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's Center for the Study of the Workplace found a third of women who graduate from engineering programs don't enter the field because they see it as inhospitable to women.

Meanwhile, forensic science offers an appealing combination of a women-friendlier reputation and exciting work. And what some experts think is a crucial motivating factor, and boasts an inspirational lineup of on-screen role models that experts think get young women interested in the field. Call it "The 'Bones' Effect." But even betting on the long shot that a lady MacGyver (sans mullet?) might get more girls interested in the big E, it's going to take a lot more than duct tape and a paper clip to fix the field's pipeline problem.

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